Lady Allen and I are very pleased that you are here to participate in the 6th Biennial Jamaica Diaspora Conference. In fact, we look forward to the interaction with you who have come from the several overseas regions in a clear demonstration that wherever you may roam, Jamaica is your home, as one songwriter put it.
Thank you for your consistent support for the objectives of our Diaspora movement and for keeping the flame alive in the period between the biennial conferences. It is by your activities and projects during the intervening years that you prove the value of these conferences and the impact which they have had on you.
Let me add my own words of welcome to those which I am sure you have already received. I hope that each of you planned your stay so that you could visit projects that you have been supporting, or plan to support, in addition to the happy reunions that you will have with family and friends. Take time to enjoy the land of your birth!
From all accounts, the Conference has been going very well so far and you have enthusiastically engaged the presenters on the range of issues on your agenda. I would have loved to have heard your views on those issues. No doubt the Conference report will update me on your thoughts on how the linkage between the Diaspora and Jamaica can best be employed for our country’s growth and prosperity.
At the 5th Biennial Conference, I had spoken with you about the I Believe Initiative which is now one of the two components of the Governor-General’s Programme for Excellence. The other component is the Governor-General’s Achievement Awards with which many of you are more familiar. In fact, it is under the GGAA that six members of the Diaspora are being honoured this afternoon. For the first time this year, we are awarding people under the age of twenty-five for their accomplishments in the Diaspora.
Let me thank Diaspora groups in Canada and Florida for having supported our IBI appeal for scholarships to enable youth to take advantage of training in animation offered by UWI-CARIMAC in 2013. They sincerely appreciated the fact that you helped to give them new opportunities for income generation.
This conference takes place at a time of heightened concern for our children and youth in Jamaica.
We have all been distressed by the violence meted out against our children and the abuse which too many continue to suffer. Even one child who dies abused is one too many!
We decry the fact that many children are neglected and often end up begging on our city streets and therefore become even more vulnerable and at risk.
We are saddened by the frequent reports of children who have gone missing and we fear that perhaps they may have been trafficked.
We are troubled by the number of youth who are involved in crime, some as stooges of adult gangsters.
We are also troubled by the immorality which is evident among many of our school children.
But I am deeply grateful for the work being done by the various public agencies such as the Office of the Children’s Registry, the Child Development Agency, the Children’s Advocate and The Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse. They have stepped up their defence of children’s rights and are strengthening their actions to protect our children and curtail the impunity of perpetrators.
I also welcome the social bodies including religious groups and service clubs, which have heeded the call for Jamaicans to unite in protection of our children. Two of them, about which I shall speak briefly, have links with my community outreach activities.
In 2012, the I Believe Initiative endorsed the Kingston Rotary Club’s Back2Life project, which a year later became a Foundation dedicated to ending youth recidivism. They are mentoring and providing skills training for youth incarcerated at the Rio Cobre Juvenile Correctional Centre. They sow seeds of hope among these young men because of the “after release” programme which they have instituted.
The success of the work at Rio Cobre has led the Foundation to sponsor similar projects in two inner-city high schools in the Corporate Area in an attempt to prevent their boys at risk from entering the juvenile system.
If you are moved to assist them, BACK2LIFE needs help with funding the recruitment and training of mentors, as well as for their skills training and after release programmes.
Among the organizations for which I am Patron is “Hands Across Jamaica for Righteousness” whose leader is Mr. Errol Rattray. He will soon launch the HANDS “Sponsor a Child” project with a view to helping children remain in school and providing them with nutrition and primary health care. Thank you for having listened to Mr. Rattray’s brief presentation on this project.
Thanks to all of you who have been volunteering in- or otherwise supporting- community projects, especially those which involve children and youth.
However, this afternoon belongs to the six persons who have been selected as the 2015 Diaspora Awardees in the Governor-General’s Achievement Awards Programme.
I am very pleased that we have increased the number of Awardees to include three young persons who have been rendering outstanding community service.
Congratulations to each of the six Awardees! Your life has been ennobled by your chosen path of excellence and of service to your fellowmen. I hope that those you have helped and motivated have been imbued with the positive qualities for which we honour you this afternoon.
Lady Allen and I wish you continued success, good health and happiness in all your future endeavours.
I believe that all of us gathered here this afternoon speak the same language of service, integrity and good neighbourliness. We want the best for Jamaica and are committed to strive for excellence at every level of our service.
Let us continue to be more visible both at home and in the Diaspora, so that ours will become the profile which defines Jamaica.